(Click on thumbnails for full size pictures)
#1 February 4 2008 52.33' S; 132.09' E
We're almost halfway now on the first stage of our journey to Casey.
apart from a fairly rough couple of days to start with out of Hobart
to sort us all out - your correspondent was an early casualty of the
'mal de mer' - we've really had a dream run to Casey thus far.
Betting sheets for the first iceberg are now up and the modal time
seems to be mid Wednesday next.
From initial observations it seems very clear to me that the ANARE
spirit of old is well permeated through this latest generation of
"explorers". Sure the technology is different and the
technologically sophisticated than it was in the past; and there is
no question that the levels of comfort available are much higher, but
the motivation,drive and camararderie of the present expeditioners
are indistinguishable to that which prevailed among our own crews.
Indeed the very fact they are still called 'expeditioners' remains a
strong bond with the original ANARE. Perhaps it is not beyond
pail that the Club could diplomatically work on the senior
politicians of the new government to reinstate ANARE as the official
name behind each of the station and marine programs. Thus
though some might only stay a few months, each segment of the program
could be an ANARE "summer at Casey" or whatever is its function.
is significant that there is a strong urge among the newer explorers
to link with the old and some have even had shirts embroided with
"60th ANARE at Casey" to make the point.
Funny you should mention the water over
the porthole! We did a small course correction after tracking
the swell to allow checking of the container fastenings - we had a
rough night last night - and I was having a cuppa in the library when
we did a massive roll! I reckon the porthole was a couple of
underwater!!! I am working on blog #2.
There's a wealth of good
yarns down here isn't there? I reckon we could fill Aurora's for
years with interesting stories.
#2 February 5
As we pass through the middle of the 'furious 50's' the Southern
Ocean has turned from a relatively benign organism into a ferocious,
wild spray-filled tormentor of ships daring to traverse her randomly
heaving surface. The barometric pressure has taken one of those
sudden drops to near the bottom of the scale, ever the harbinger of
bad weather. As I finish this off next morning, we are a haggard
bunch of intrepids who had little sleep alternately being thumped on
the head and feet - human shuttlecocks in our bunks, being played
with by the wild waves.
On the brighter side, yesterday two whales were sighted off the port
bow - always a smile-inducing event.
This morning I learned about the 500 Club. This is a select body
'explorers' who have spent 500 days or more on the Antarctic
continent. So it does not include travel to or from, but it can be
accumulated over multiple short stays as well as long ones. One
fellow I'll meet at Casey has qualified 3 times over, and by the
anecdotes I've had should be the subject of a great yarn in Aurora.
The ANARE Club should liaise with these folks to see about some kind
of recognition which of course will also apply to many of our old
Another story told me this morning was about the last of the VW
buggies at Mawson. Apparently the AAD had been trying to get it
RTA'd for years, but when the ship was due in it would have
mysteriously vanished in a blizzard, only to be 'rediscovered' some
time after it sailed. It would seem some of the folks would dig
deep hole and bury it in the snow out on the hill away from the
station, but have a GPS marker of the spot. Then they'd go and
recover it when the coast was clear! I understand the 'system'
finally won out a year or so later. I hope to find out the ultimate
fate of the BSA 125cc motorbike I had at Wilkes in 1961, while I am
there. I handed it on to Pancho Evans when I left I think, but have
heard no more.
Late this afternoon our first iceberg emerged out of a grey mist off
the starboard beam about 3km away. Your correspondent narrowly
missed the sweepstake prize, being pipped by his cabin mate Peter
Corcoran, ex Davis 1997 and now travelling as the Voyage Management
Trainee, cheerfully known by the acronym of 'vomit'. seeing it sent
a thrill even through the many hardened polar travellers on board,
and this well-sculptured specimen, holding a seemingly disdainful
calm in the stormy sea breaking against its blue/white cliffs, was an
entirely appropriate subject for the many pixels of data consumed to
record her passing - like ships, I am sure they are best addressed in
the feminine gender! Another event for the day was the
the line" visit from King Neptune and his helpers. Your
correspondent thought he was immune from their attentions, smiling
smugly as these youngsters were put through his team's rituals. But
such is his dictatorial nature, King Neptune decreed that all those
who had not passed through 60degS in this ship were required to be
re-initiated! We had to make much supplication to the
taste some foul liquid, be smeared with some very fishy pottage, kiss
a large gutted fish, and eat a royal haemharroid. Fortunately
last item was in fact a red wine grape! The crew went to a lot
trouble to conduct the ceremony, which was appreciated by all the
onlookers at least. The newly inducted subjects retired quickly
The weather has been overall moderate these last two days making
progess fairly rapid, and sleeping not the shuttlecock experience it
had been! We've just passed through 61.45S and 116.44E with some
predicting we could be at Casey as early as tomorrow (Friday)
#4, February 8 65.32S; 109.09E in the pack at last!
Two days ago, some wag was spreading a rumour that we were actually
somewhere off the NSW coast because we had not seen any ice, then the
first iceberg, then nothing else for a day. But today its all
happened in a big way. First a scattering of very reasonable
tabular icebergs, with their individual trails of scattered bergy
bits, then small outcrops of old pack, then finally some floes and a
little clutch of Adelies to welcome us. They were new guys
themselves as there were lingering brown moulting feathers on their
backs and they did not quite know how to handle the red monster
nudging their platform out of its way. So the solution was a
spontaneous group dive into the sea. Shortly after came our first
seal, a Crab Eater, who was equally nervous deciding not to wait for
his floe to be nudged. He slithered to the edge and gracefully slid
into the deep blue water. All the while small flocks of Antarctic
Petrels and the odd sooty Albatross are surveying our giant grumbling
floating red steel capsule. Now we are pushing through fairly heavy
broken pack at about 4 kts, just 5 nautical miles away from Casey.
This alone has revived everyone's spirits, folks pass each other with
a big smile in the gangways, silently sharing a wonderful uplifting
experience. Even among the multi-trippers, there is an added
sparkle in the eye and a lightness of foot. We are undoubtably
Antarctica at last.
Today also marked the time for us to perform a thorough vacuum clean
of the clothing that we are taking ashore. Some of us
to do the "IPY clean", part of an international survey of
forms in Antarctica". Special filters in the vacuum
captured what was found in our pockets and velcro straps and camera
bags and day packs, and these were all combined with a questionnaire
so that individual samples could be traced back to geographical
locations elsewhere in the world in the recent past. Australia is
playing a leading role in working to keep Antarctica free of
introduced organisms. It might seem like an overkill to some,
its a small price to pay if it stops any spread of foreign living
#5, February 10 at Casey.
What an amazing sight, sliding gently into anchor off Casey station at
07h00 February 9 in a dead calm sea, mainly an overcast sky, with the
meteorological Radar dome at Wilkes and some of the old radio
antennae cleary visible across the other bay, off the stern of the
ship. From the bow, Casey looked like a huge mining camp complex
scattered around the hill at the head of the bay. The current
Station Leader, Jeremy Smith, came out to the ship and gave us a
detailed briefing of things happening at Casey, especially the do's
and dont's moving about with all the heavy machinery trundling around
during the resupply. Later in the morning most of us going ashore
were ferried across in the barge to our allocated accommodation in
the big red shed. The first impression of what I imagine an
mining camp might look like was reinforced once we got into the base
proper. What a massive high tech operation the station is! And
luxury is the Red Shed - like a 4* hotel!
For all that, it was very pleasing to see the ANARE lettering on
almost all the machinery, usually as part of the roundel logo we old
timers were used to - keeping the link through our long history well
and truly alive. Even in the 2007-08 Casey Handbook prepared by
Jeremy Smith for the proposed visit of the G-G, he refers to the
current operations as the "61st ANARE". Former
Wilkesians will be
delighted to know the red shed - the main accommodation module and
heart of the station - is well percolated with photographs and even a
special exhibition of artefacts, from those good old days in the
"banana belt" of Antarctica! It was a thrill to your
to see so many of the 1961 photos hanging in pride of place there.
To cap the Wilkes experience, I was included in a party of 6
yesterday afternoon to go to the 'Wilkes Hilton' for an overnight
field trip "jolly". The Wilkes Hilton, complete with
slippers supplied by the hotel chain, is in fact the new transmitter
hut our 1961 party assembled that first summer we arrived. It
us about 45 minutes to travel the 7km by a tandem Haaglunds vehicle,
and on arrival we did an extensive walking tour of the old station.
It was an extraordinary experience that will remain an abiding
memory, revisiting a place that effectively transformed my life, but
was now a derelict abandoned ruin! Without exception all the
buildings were filled with ice and snow, completely inaccessible, but
the aura of its previous vibrancy was still almost palpable for me as
I walked around on the roofs pointing things out to the others. One
of the urban myths doing the rounds is that there is a piano still
buried in the ice of the recreation hut. Unless a piano was
in after our time and somehow left behind, I assured folks there was
no piano in 1961. Perhaps a reader might care to comment and either
validate or refute the myth.
After a simple but nourishing meal heated on the gas stove by our
very enthusiastic, wonderful guide, Vonn Keller, a very comfortable
night in the Hilton followed, for three of us, as three others
decided to try the bivouac experience outside. One, Craig
claimed he was attacked by a penguin during the night, but the
absence of tracks tended to dispute this, and it was generally agreed
he had been dreaming! As he is a journalist, we felt he was
up a story for the tabloid press.
Next morning we skiied over to the graves of Robinson and Sullivan to
pay our respects, then did an extensive ski tour around the greater
Wilkes area, noting the large number of empty fuel drums blown by
blizzards into all sorts of nooks and crannies over the years.
Finally after lunch we did another extended walk through Wilkes
station soaking up more of its ambience, then headed back to Casey in
the Haaglunds. The weather throughout remained calm but overcast
with a ribbon of clear sky out over the sea generating first a
spectacular sunset, then next morning some brilliantly illuminated
large icebergs parading in a line from Cape Folger in the North.
There seemed to be a vastly greater number of bergs in that line than
we had 47 years ago. Another sign of global warming?
Just a quick update before a small party of us heads out to "Robbos"
a field station at Robinson's Ridge, some 15 km South of Casey. It
was named in honour of Hartley Robinson who was killed in a tractor
accident at Wilkes in July 1959. Our journey will be another
overnight stop, mainly for moss sample collection by our experts.
for me, it will be just a very pleasant "jolly".
My comment about the mythical piano at Wilkes has already been
refuted by our Doctor, Lloyd Fletcher who crawled into a tight space
through an opening in the roof of the old recreation building back in
1986, when you still could, and saw a piano and movie projector
through the clear ice within!
Today, I had volunteered for "slushy" duty along with Andi
Head Librarian with the AAD. We were kept pretty busy most of
day with he usual kitchen hand chores of washing up all the pots and
pans generated by our Chef, cleaning tables and mopping out the
dining area after lunch, refilling various containers of cereal and
biscuits, and so on. But with 2 hours off during the afternoon
had the opportunity to walk around this extensive station complex and
get some good photos in what was a perfectly clear sunny day.
#7 February 14, passing through "iceberg alley"
en route to Davis.
If ever we needed reminding of the state of modern communications,
two elements were highlighted yesterday. Firstly, an e-mail was
circulated reminding expeditioners that orders for flowers through
Interflora for those who had not prepared their Valentine's token in
advance, would close at midday. Secondly, there was some debate
about the significance of the iceberg at the entrance to Mawson's
horsehoe harbour for our resupply of the station when we arrive there
in a week or so's time, as we watched it 'live' on the webcam from
the comfort of the Casey library.
These past two days I have had the privilege of being on a 'jolly'
over to Robbo's Hut some 15 km south of Casey. It is a little red
field hut out on a ridge named after Hartley Robinson who tragically
died in a tractor accident at Wilkes in 1959. Four of us journeyed
out in a Hagglunds vehicle going via moraine lines so that moss
samples could be collected by Anja Steinwender and Antek Skotnicki.
Our expert guide was Nick Cartwright, a very competent and
experienced fellow from Casey and a delightful travelling companion,
whose day job was as a Carpenter/Builder. The weather was mainly
overcast but calm, with an estimated temperature of -12C overnight.
When we arrived, the sea below the Hut had that greasy pre-freezing
appearance, and by morning this had thickened into sizeable pancakes
several cm thick. While the moss gatherers rolled their stones,
Nick and I had the unmitigated joy of just sitting on a rock a few
metres above a clutch of adelie penguins who were in that restless
niggly stage of final moulting. The newly formed sea ice was gently
surging to and fro on the coastal rock shelf below setting of a light
crackling sound in the otherwise infinite silence that so
characterises Antarctica. Occasionally, we heard a louder distant
gun-shot of an iceberg calving from the Vanderford Glacier a few km
Last night there was a special handover party at Casey, where the
ceremonial keys to the station were passed from the Summer outgoing
station Leader, Jeremy Smith to the incoming wintering Station
Leader, Bob Jones. Former Wilkes explorers will be delighted to
know they still call the secure grog store "Fort Knox", complete
a real key, included in the handover. Also I learned that the local
radio station known as Radio KOLD, is perpetuating the name coined by
Steve Grimsley for his station at Wilkes in 1961. These minor
examples illustrate what is a real hunger for history among today's
expeditioners. On numerous occasions in the past few days at Casey,
expeditioners have come up to query me on many different aspects of
life at Wilkes. There was a poignant moment too, when on
to a question about my feelings on revisiting Wilkes, one listener
commented that at least there was a relic to visit! He was at
1 in 1987, and it was completely dismantled and returned to Australia
when the new station opened. One building at the top of the old
station, the workshop, still stands on the eastern perimeter of the
new Casey station. But that complex of tunnel linked buildings, so
characteristic of old Casey is not there to trigger memories.
#8. February 17. At sea on the way to Davis.
Soon after leaving Casey we entered broken pack ice, then out into
clear water with occasional icebergs, then back into such heavy pack,
sticky with new falling snow, we had to do a bit of a turn back north
to get clear of it. Night-time in heavy pack and drifting snow
the ship's searchlights scanning out front, seeking out a likely
lighter patch or watery lead, and all the time 10 million watts of
diesel power is throbbing through our red floating steel capsule
churning ice floes into mush off the stern as in a giant blender.
What an awe-inspiring demonstration of technology fighting nature,
and only just winning!
Now we're out in benign open water cruising along at 13 knots, with
several pods of humpback whales sighted, some breaching within a few
tens of metres of the ship. Just this last few days in addition to
the whales, we have seen Weddel seals, a Ross Seal, penguins - both
Adelies and Emperors, and one particularly aggressive leopard seal,
who, as we scraped by his floe, became very agitated, barking at us
like a guard dog, while standing his ground. Is it any wonder so
many of us get hooked on Antarctica once we have experienced it?
One of our barge skippers, Les Sims, a professional mariner, wooden boat
builder and fishing tour operator from Hobart, obtained an official permit,
and could not wait to indulge his passion when we
anchored at Casey. Here he is fishing from his cabin porthole,
proof of his skill! My cabin mate Peter Corcoran, captured the
To next blog page
#10. Davis, Feb 23.
Well I have planted it at Platcha - insider's joke! Its been a
fairly 'different' few days compared with the original plan outlined
by our ever-cheerful voyage Leader, Nicki Chilcott. We
Davis to a beautifully calm morning, with little clutches of penguins
on ice floes playing chicken with our slowing but inevitably
overpowering orange steel juggernaut, Aurora Australis. And as
as we were 'barged' ashore, three of us, Ross Harwood (AAD Logistics
Officer), Andi Smithies (AAD Chief Librarian) and myself were taken
by Station Leader, Peter Petersen up to the helipad and flown out to
Platcha Hut in the care of Glen Hoger from Davis who is an Air
Operations Ground Support specialist and a very experienced field
guy. He has been at Davis since October 2006. By the time we
reached Platcha, a most picturesquely sited little Hut - well two
Huts actually, the original one now almost entirely given over to
house the toilet and two emergency beds, and a few metres away, the
later one built in September 1982 - the wind had risen considerably.
We only had time for an hour or so wandering around the area,
admiring the kaleidoscope of different boulders and stones in the
rocky landscape scoured out by past eons of ice abrasion, the plateau
ice cliffs a mere 50m from the Hut, and the head of the fjord, now
ice free, just about 20m in the other direction. Come
we were tucked up safely inside our reverse freezer box coccoon, from
where we were effectively confined by the ever stronger gusting wind
for the next two days! Glen estimated some of the gusts were
reaching 50 kts, and they certainly gave the Hut a good shaking on
its steel guy tie downs from time to time. During two of the
comparative lulls, I enjoyed being just a little intrepid by going
out and collecting buckets of ice for water-making from a nearby
drift bank. It was important to scrape away and discard the
layer first to eliminate collecting the frozen salt spray flung up
from the waves crashing against the ice edge below the hut.
The four of us, above average sized males, quickly became adept at
moving around the confined space, a very necessary skill, as our
boundaries were an overall 3.3m square already partly filled with two
substantial double bunks, food shelf, stove, sink and a table and
bench! Needless to say, the bulk of our time was spent lying on our
beds. The winds moderated enough by lunchtime on the third day
the expert helicopter pilots to negotiate the still pulsing winds and
land cleanly on the little helipad nearby to take us back to Davis.
Once 'home' we learned about the other dramas affecting both another
field party and the ship in the adverse wind conditions. One
on another field trip broke her arm and had to be airlifted back to
Davis, the ship dragged on her anchor and had to go back to sea to do
'laps' up and down the coast for the time, only arriving back at
Davis this morning to get us all back on board ready for the last
port of call, Mawson. As you might imagine, the resupply was
significantly delayed, so the teams are working flat out now to make
up as much time as possible.
So in the few hours spent at the station at Davis, I have enjoyed the
very welcoming hospitality of the team there who, just like those at
Casey, are fully imbued with the ANARE Spirit and its history, an
unbroken continuum dating from Heard and MacQuarie Islands in 1947.
It was especially pleasing to be taken on a guided tour by Ray Morris
of the latest Physics experiments involving both basic geosciences,
like magnetic field variations, through interferometry, all the way
to the spectacular LIDAR pulsed laser work unlocking more evidence of
probable climate changes in the very outer reaches of our atmosphere.
The sophistication of the technology, and the enormous download of
data these computer-controlled instruments generate, completely dwarf
the fully manual, basic instruments of our time. Our Antarctic
science is world class, being performed at stations of world class in
the harshest climate our planet can generate.
#11 en route to Mawson February 24-26
This leg of the voyage has been a mixed bag from pushing through
thick pack, cruising North up close alongside the big berg from the
Ross ice shelf for many km - someone had estimated it held enough
water to keep Sydney going for 400 years, the only problem would be
getting it there! - some open water then as we headed mainly West,
and now back into pack as we head due South into Mawson.
Most of us have been reading, watching the odd movie, but importantly
there have been some afternoon lectures of considerable interest.
Dave McCormack has been making a detailed history of the
over its life in the service of ANARE, and gave us a most interesting
illustrated talk he called "Weasels I have known".
His passion for
preserving what is left of the weasel fleet radiated from his
discourse, and he focussed strongly on the so far fruitless search
for Bob Dover's weasel #3 that was abandoned by John Bechervaise's
team 200 km from Mawson when it broke down in 1955. Only the engine
removed, the men being towed home on sleds by the remaining weasel,
camping in tents and lugging the engine along with all their other
goods. Major hi-tech surveys have been undertaken over the years to
find this weasel without success, despite its position being known to
within a search area 1km by 2km, recommended by Syd Kirkby.
But it is buried sufficiently to defeat
discovery thus far. Dave certainly had his large
with the heritage value of finding this machine for ultimate
conservation in a future museum of Australian Antarctica.
By way of complete contrast Gary Miller gave us a very erudite
presentation on the project he and his partner Robyn Mundy will be
conducting with the Emperor penguins at the Auster Rookery out of
Mawson this Winter and Spring. They are seeking to piece
evidence for why the penguins seem to carry anti-bodies for a
specialised virus common to domestic poultry in temperate latitudes.
There is no obvious mechanism by which the birds could become
infected by this virus, and unravelling this could also help to
understand other viral transfer mechanisms in isolated colonies like
these. Its going to be a very technically challenging
them taking blood and faecal samples, especially during the coldest
time of the year. But they have had some years of practice,
King Penguins at Macquarie Island to Skuas at Casey. The extra
of adult emperors will no doubt make it more daunting.
Well we have just come up against some fast ice a few km from Mawson,
there's a fierce wind blowing and the dark streak on this shot shows
a cluster of penguins sitting on the side of an iceberg just off the
port side of the ship.